Reaching the final of Masterchef 2007 was a rollercoaster of emotion, with huge highs and lows, but I loved every minute and learnt a huge amount. I owe a great deal to John and Gregg who had faith in my ability when I did not believe in myself. Since competing on the programme my life has changed considerably. I now write cookery columns for two magazines, give cookery demonstrations and am just working on my 13th cook book - unlucky number for some but not for me!!! I love all forms of country cooking, using seasonal and locally sourced produce. This blog is to enable me to share with you a few of my recipes and baking ideas. Enjoy Hannah xxxx

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

We have just been on a family holiday to Suffolk - it has been a long time since our last family holiday (so long ago that I can't even remember the last time) and it was so nice to spend proper time with everyone. We all visited Southwold - one of Mum's and my favourite places. Despite the bracing wind, we enjoyed the pier, with its wonderful water clock and the mechanical museum (Sacha got slobbered on by a mechanical dog and my Aunt tried out the Keep Fit machine - I don't think we have laughed so much in ages). We also went to the lovely old Harbour Inn and played in the penny arcades like we did when we were children. It is amazing how long £1 will last on the 2pence waterfall machines - we kept trying to loose all our money so we could leave and kept winning just when we thought we were done. In the end it took a team effort of all 10 of us to get rid of the final coins! We also had our traditional Wishing Well - this has been in our family for a long time (at least as far back as my Mum's Grandma) - a basket filled with little presents for every one which is normally had on Boxing Day to extend Christmas at little further! We impose a £5 limit and everyone bought something little for everyone else - we ended up with 9 wonderful presents each. Gareth gave Sacha some chive and onion flavoured crickets (yuk) but we got our revenge by getting the hotel to make some petit fours with them in which Gareth ate without realising until it was too late (we cried with laughter and luckily my brother saw the funny side!!!)

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Last week, just before Christmas, Mum and I had a special Christmas lunch at Claridges. It followed some shopping in a rather manic London and we therefore welcomed the calm and tranquility of Claridges and the chance to recover from the shopping. The Christmas tree in the foyer was spectacular. Claridges offer a three course lunch for £30 - although I wouldn't call this cheap, it has to be one of the best offers in London - four courses if you include the Amuse Bouche of Michelin star food at this price is definitely reasonable - it was all so delicious! We feasted on wild game terrine with pistachio brioche, mackerel with cauliflower volutee, cod with razor clams and clam sauce and I had the most perfect pudding I have had in a long time - balsamic ice cream, gingerbread crumbs, apple sorbet and cranberry syrup, topped elegantly with an apple flower (which tasted delicious). One of the chefs in the kitchen had made it to the quarterfinals of Masterchef Professionals and we were given a tour of the kitchens - it amazes me that they manage to create so many wonderful dishes in such a small area and at furnace temperatures! It brought back many scary memories of Masterchef, but we were very pleased to be shown round.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Happy Christmas Everyone - I hope that wherever you are today and whoever you are with, your Christmas will be filled with good cheer, delicious food and lots of lovely presents from Santa. This is the sampler I have stitched for my mum this year and am giving to her this morning - an unusual Santa with sunflowers (my Mum loves sunflowers so I hope she will like this!) Have a wonderful day and Christmas blessings to you all

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The presents are all wrapped and last minute Christmas cards posted and finally it is the eve before Christmas. My advent candle is down to its final day and we have ceremoniously light our new wood burning stove (installed earlier this week with a cloud of dust as the fireplace was cut away - not ideal a few days before Christmas!!!!) I know that for many of you, like me, Christmas eve will be full of last minute preparations and rushing about, but I hope that you will find time to sit and have a cup of tea (or a tipple of sherry) and spend a few minutes looking at your tree and breathing in the Christmas spirit before it is all gone by too quickly.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Even if you haven't had time to make your own mincemeat you can easily jazz up shop bought mincemeat to make extra special mince pies. Try mixing the zest of a grated orange, 100g/3 1/2 oz white chocolate chips, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and 2 tbsp amaretto with a jar of ordinary mincemeat. Keep some ready made pastry in the fridge and a jar of mincemeat in your cupboard and you will be able to rustle up scrumptious mince pies for any unexpected visitors!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Sacha loves ham and even though I know that by Boxing day everyone will be too full to eat much, I always make a ham - just for Sacha. This year I poached our ham in prosecco for an extra special Christmas treat!

Boxing Day Ham

1 large unsmoked gammon joint
1 bottle of prosecco or sparkling wine
2 heaped tbsp of caster sugar
1 whole onion, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole cloves
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp treacle
100g/3 1/2 oz dark muscovado sugar

Place the gammon in a large saucepan and pour over the prosecco. Top the pan up with water so that the gammon is covered. Add the caster sugar, onion and cinnamon to the pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 1 hour 15 minutes. Turn the gammon over half way through cooking to ensure that it cooks evenly. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 5/190C/375F and drain the poaching liquid (this is a good stock base for soups). Remove the skin from the gammon and score the fat underneath with a sharp knife in a criss cross pattern and stud with cloves. Mix together the mustard, maple syrup, treacle and muscovado sugar. Place the gammon in a large roasting tin and cover with the treacle glaze. Roast for 30 - 45 minutes, basting half way through. Allow to cool and then store in the fridge wrapped in greaseproof paper until you are ready to serve.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Our lovely friends, Susan and Peter, came to supper on Saturday evening. Susan used to live in Sweden so kindly made us some traditional Gloegg. Mulled wine - only nicer as it has sultanas and almonds in which you eat with a spoon when you finish your drink (and a lot of alcohol which is always a bonus!). The last time we drank this was during a visit to Tivoli gardens in Copenhagen - a truly magical evening with fairy lights in all the trees, ice skating and sipping glasses of warm wine whilst browsing the winter market. If you look closely you can see my reindeer decorations above the aga!

Susan's Gloegg wine

1 bottle red wine
400ml port
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole cloves
zest of 1 orange
100g/3 1/2 oz caster sugar
100ml rum
100ml brandy
100g/3 1/2 oz sultanas
100g/3 1/2 oz flaked almonds

Place all the ingredients except for the sultanas and almonds in a saucepan and simmer over a gentle heat for 5 - 10 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the wine is nice and warm. Place a spoonful of sultanas and flaked almonds in the bottom of each of your serving glasses and ladle over the wine. Serve with a teaspoon so that your guests can eat the soaked fruit and almonds.

Thanks you Susan for the delicious recipe!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

We do not have lights on the outside of our house. I have enough of a job persuading Sacha to let me decorate the inside of the house and I think I would be trying my luck to do outside as well. I think it must be the effects of the credit crunch but there are far fewer displays this year. The best display we have ever seen is near Marston Mortain just near Bedford - we go every year to see the lights there as they are spectacular in a very kitsch way! This is my Mum's neighbour's house - he has also decorated in the back garden into a santa's grotto - I imagine his grandchildren are so thrilled to see it - I was and I am 34!!!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

I do love the run up to Christmas more than any other time of the year. The kitchen always smells of cinnamon and mulled wine and there are always lots of baked goodies to eat whilst wrapping presents and writing cards ( I still haven't finished either of these tasks!) Last weekend I visited some university friends, Fay Magdalen and Sonya and their cute little boys Ishan and Tommy. Before heading off I very quickly made a Christmas tree cake in a tree shaped cake case I found in our local cookshop. The cake was a chocoholics dream - chocolate sponge, with chunks of caramel chocolate and plain chocolate If you don't have a Christmas tree case or pan then bake a large rectangular cake and when it is cool cut out a Christmas tree shape with a sharp knife. Using a green buttercream, pipe large stars along the bottom of the tree pulling the icing bag away from the cake on each star so that it makes a feathered effect (to resemble tree branches). Repeat all the way to the top of the tree, then decorate with chocolate buttons, coloured sweets and edible glitter. This was such a quick cake to decorate and Tommy and Ishan loved it!

Friday, 12 December 2008

This morning I had a 7am meeting, about 45 minutes from home so I had a VERY early start - in fact it almost feels like lunchtime and it is not even 10am yet. The mincepies (which I was making at 11pm last night) and coffee did little to improve my mood as the meeting was outside on a very cold farm. Brrrrrr....I still feel chilly just thinking about it. The upside was that we were finished by 8am and I had a stunning drive back through the frosty sunrise. Everything looked so Christmassy! If you are going out today, wrap up VERY warm!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

I was speaking to lovely Steven Wallis from Masterchef the other day and we were discussing how underrated Malibu is - neither of us had had it in ages but both confessed to liking it. It got me thinking about how to use it in cooking and so I dug the dusty bottle out of our cupboard and decided to make some "Tropical" mincemeat. The result was a very yummy (assuming you like coconut) pale mincemeat and it made lovely mince pies. I also added few heaped tablespoons of the mincemeat to a 4, 4, 4, 2 sponge mix for a lovely light coconutty fruit cake.

Tropical mincemeat
Makes 6 jars

200g shredded or dessicated coconut
1kilo dried mixed fruit (sultanas, peel, raisins, currants)
200g glace cherries, halved
Juice and zest of 2 oranges
Juice and zest of 2 limes
3 apples, grated
300g caster sugar
300ml malibu
250g vegetable suet
100g pistachios, chopped

Toast the coconut in a dry frying pan until lightly golden. Depending on the size of your pan, you may find it easier to cook in batches. Place the toasted coconut in a large oven proof bowl and add all the other ingredients. Stir well with a large spoon to make sure everything is mixed. Leave to stand for 1 hour to allow the flavours to develop. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 1/2 / 120/250/Aga Simmering Oven and place the bowl in the oven for one hour to allow the suet to melt, stirring half way through and at the end of cooking. Decant into steralised jars.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Sometimes when people ask me to make a cake for them, the theme they ask for completely stumps me. I know when I was last over at Fitzbillies, Pauline was making a giant (almost life size) electric guitar cake and I was full of admiration for her! Last weekend, I was asked to make a fox hunting cake - this gave me a double dilemma as 1) I don't approve of fox hunting and so ethically didn't feel very comfortable making the cake and 2) it is so far removed from my comfort zone of flowery, pretty cakes that I just didn't know where to start. Anyway - as it was for a friend in the village for her husband's 70th birthday I didn't feel able to refuse so the challenge was set. They were very pleased with the end result and I proved to myself that I can make cakes even if I am not inspired by the theme - lesson well learned!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Our annual expedition to Stevington Windmill to choose our Christmas tree took place early on Sunday morning. As usual we ummed and ahhh for ages (well I did - Sacha patiently held out each tree for me to inspect). We eventually went back to the first tree we had looked at and took that one home with us! Here is lovely Brian Pell sawing the bottom of our tree. I spent all Sunday afternoon decorating the house for Christmas - the twinkling lights on the tree have finally instilled some much needed festive spirit into this house! My usual greenery swag over the fireplace has been replaced this year with some simple decorations on a cranberry string as we are expecting the chimney man to come and fit our stove next week (fingers crossed) and with all the dust, I didn't think that a proper swag would survive the mess. The alternative swag is acceptable and was certainly a lot less work! I also made one for our dinning room with some lovely porcelain snowflake decorations and little purple stockings that I stitched!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Well imagine the smile on my face when I discovered that my raspberry and white chocolate trifle had made the front cover of this month's Delicious magazine! It was a proud moment indeed and I almost did a double taken when I read my name on the inside cover. To think that my pudding has a larger picture on the cover than Gordon Ramsey!

I don't know where the days are going at the moment and I can't understand how we are just over two weeks until Christmas - I have to confess that I am not very organised yet! The recipes for my cook book are being photographed and at the end of each day I get sent the photos to see whether I approve - it is very exciting - especially when some of the cakes look even nicer than when I made them!!!! Look out for the coffee Battenburg cake - this is my favourite picture so far!

Friday, 5 December 2008

Earlier this week was our last village sewing circle before Christmas and so we celebrated with mulled wine and mince pies. I had carols playing whilst I made the pies and for the first time this year felt very Christmassy! We had three different types of mince pie - pistachio crumble, orange and cream cheese and these cherry frangipane pies. These were the most popular!

Cherry Frangipane Pies
Makes 20, preparation time 20 minutes cooking time 15 - 20 minutes

500g sweet shortcrust pastry
400g/14oz mincemeat
200g/7oz self raising flour
85g/3oz ground almonds
200g/7oz butter
100g/3 1/2 oz glace cherries, chopped
55g/2oz caster sugar
1 tsp almond essence
icing sugar for dusting

Grease two bun tins with butter. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to 1/2 cm thickness and cut out 20 circles using a 2 1/2 inch cutter. Press a circle of pastry into each hole in the tin and fill with a spoonful of the mincemeat. Place the flour and ground almonds in a bowl, cut the butter into small cubes and rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingertips. Add the cherries, caster sugar and almond essence so that you have a soft dough. Place a spoonful of the cherry dough onto each mince pie and bake in a hot oven Gas Mark 5/190/375 for 15 - 20 minutes until the topping is golden and the pastry is crisp. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

In the spirit of saving money this winter, we decided a while ago that we would invest in a log burning stove for the lounge to heat the house (and particularly my office) during the day so I didn't need to have the heating on. Our oil bill last year was astronomical! Our new stove arrived yesterday and we are very pleased with it. Having shopped around for a while we finally heard about some stoves that had chips in their enamel and had £450 off!!!! We took a gamble and bought the cream one without seeing it, on the promise that it came with some enamel paint and we would be able to repair it. The stove arrived and it is perfect - if you didn't know it was there (bottom of the right hand door hinge if you want to play "spot the chip") we wouldn't even have noticed the tiny bit of missing paint and are wondering how on earth there was a £450 discount for such a small amount of damage. We are very happy! The chimney man is coming in two weeks to fit it (there will be a lot of dust so sadly no Christmas decorations for us until he has been)! I love our dear little stove and have a feeling it will become my new best friend over the next few months!

Monday, 1 December 2008

I made this cake for a meeting last week - I had not really planned on making a cake so just used what I could lay my hands on - the result was a rather unusual flavour combination, but it worked! Eager to try the cake, a slice was cut before I yelled at everyone to stop cutting as I needed a photo for my blog - I think everyone at work must think I am crazy!

Nectarine and Coconut Cake

Served 6 - 8

Preparation time 30 minutes Cooking time 35 - 45

Serves 8

250ml coconut milk

100g/3 1/2 oz shredded coconut

225g/8oz butter, plus extra for greasing

225g/8oz light brown sugar

4 large eggs, lightly beatenjam

225g/8oz self raising flour, sifted

100g/3 1/2oz plain chocolate, grated

2 ripe nectarines, stones removed and thinly sliced

1 tbsp peach jam

1 tbsp lemon juice

  1. Soak the coconut in the coconut milk for 2 hours until the milk has been absorbed. Grease a 20cm/8in ring tin.

  2. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180°C/350°F. Whisk the butter and sugar together with a mixer or whisk until light and creamy. Add the eggs and whisk again. Add the flour, soaked coconut and grated chocolate and fold in gently to incorporate. Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake tin. Arrange the nectarine slices in a ring on top of the batter and bake for 35 - 45 minutes until the cake is firm to touch and a knife comes out clean with no cake batter onHeat the jam and lemon juice in a pan until the jam has melted and then brush over the warm cake using a pastry brush. Leave to cool in the tin.

Friday, 28 November 2008

My book is currently being edited. There is a team of about 10 people working on it which is staggering - spotting typos, checking methods, planning photographs, design and layouts. I must get about 50 emails a day with questions ranging from "Do I think that the fairy toadstool meringues would look good displayed in a basket as though someone had picked them whilst out foraging for mushrooms" to "on the duck pond cookies do the sugar ducks lie flat or sit upright". No stone is left unturned by my lovely editor Allee. It is lovely to think that my little book is being given so much care and attention. I will definitely never look at a cook book in the same way again - I had never realised just how much work goes into it. A few of you have asked when the book will be out and the answer is next Autumn in the UK and the USA and a bit later I think in Australia, Germany and France - such a way off, but hopefully it will be worth the wait!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Oh me, Oh my...I have been graced with not one, but two awards - you are too kind. This first is a Kreativ Blogger from Jonathan at AroundBritainWithAPaunch - if you haven't popped by to visit Jonathan and Sarah's blog - it is definitely worth a visit. One of his recent postings is about his day making macaroons at L'Atalier - they look as good as Laduree macaroons and I am very impressed. The other Hard Working Food Blogger award is very kindly from Bellini Valli
of more than burnt toast whose most recent post of Mexican Chicken Soup literally made my mouth water - I will definitely be making this. Rightly Bellini Valni has already received both of these awards already, otherwise I would have passed one back to her.

So now it falls to me to pass these awards on to the well deserving

Hard Working Food Blogger
Jonathan and Sarah at Around Britain with a Paunch
William Leigh at Theboydonefood - who has just been put in the top 10 food blogs by the times and is also writing a food blog for Hello Magazine - so pleased for you on both these counts Will
Katrina of Shes in the kitchen who has some truly scrumptions cakes on her blog
Marie at Oak Cottage - I don't know how you manage to turn out some many delicious recipes every day Marie - you put me to shame
and of course fellow Masterchef foodie David Hall - there is no other more hard working food blogger out there in my view

Kreativ Blogger
Gareth and Amy for their inspiring rid the debt story
Lucy of the Smallest Smallholding with lovely stories of country life
Tammy of Wee Treats By Tammy - who is a fellow lawyer and cupcake queen after my own heart
Joanne at Joanne's Food who shows that eating carefully can still be creative
and I Heart Cupcakes whose obsession with cupcakes puts mine to shame

Well done one and all!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Now you are going to have to trust me on this one as the photograph doesn't really do these sausages justice. These used to be our favourite thing when we were little and we always begged my mum to make them for us. They are nice served hot but also good cold on picnics. I made them a few weeks ago for my husband who had never had them before and he loved them as much as we do!
Welsh Rarebit-ish Sausages
12 chipolata sausages
12 slices of bread, crusts removed
125g butter, softened
125g cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
salt and pepper to season
cocktail skewers

Preheat to the oven to Gas Mark 5/190C/375F. Mix together the butter, cheese and mustard and season well with salt and pepper. Use a rolling pin to flatten each slice of bread. Spread a thick layer of the butter mixture onto each slice of bread. Place a sausage at one end of each slice and roll up so that the sausage is wrapped in the bread. Secure each one in place with a cocktail stick and place in a roasting tin. Bake in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes until the bread is golden brown and the sausages are cooked through.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

It is that time of year again when my neighbour Ros kindly arrives with a bag of fresh walnuts from the tree in her garden - they are delicious and I immediately had to cook with them! Sadly we ate it all before remembering to take a photo!

Orange and Walnut Polenta Cake
Preparation time 30 minutes Cooking time 50 - 60 minutes

Serves 8

55g/2oz/heaped ¼ cup light brown sugar

250g/9oz/1 cup and 1 tbsp/2 sticks plus 1 tbsp butter, plus extra for greasing

2 large oranges

225g/8oz/1 scant cup caster sugar

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

115g/4oz/1 cup ground walnuts

1tsp ground cinnamon

115g/4oz pre cooked grain polenta, cooked according to packet instructions

Grease and line a 23cm/9inch round cake tin. Grate the zest from the oranges and set aside. In a small saucepan, heat the brown sugar and 30g/1oz of the butter and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the caramel syrup over the base of your pie dish. Remove the peel from the oranges and cut the fruit into thick round slices, removing any pips. Place the slices in rings on top of the caramel sauce in the dish and allow the caramel to cool. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180°C/350°F. Using a mixer, mix together remaining 225g/8oz butter and caster sugar until light and creamy. Add the eggs and whisk again. Add the ground walnuts, cinnamon and polenta and whisk again. Spoon the cake batter over the fruit and bake for about 50 - 60 minutes until the cake is firm to touch and a knife comes out clean with no cake batter on it. Allow the cake to cool, then invert onto a serving plate. Serve with cream.

Lemon Dainties

These tiny cakes are just a mouthful really but are perfect as a sweet canape or for afternoon tea.

115g/4oz butter, softened
115g/4oz caster sugar
2 eggs
115g/4oz self raising flour, sifted
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 heaped tbsp lemon curd
1 heabed tbsp creme fraiche
155g/5oz icing sugar sifted
yellow food colouring
yellow and white sugar flowers
36 mini muffin cases

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180/350 and place the muffin cases in mini muffin pans (you can cook in batches if you only have one pan). Cream together the butter and sugar until light and cream. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking after each egg is added. Fold in the flour, lemon zest, lemon curd and creme fraiche gently with a spatula. Place heaped teaspoonfuls of the cake batter in each cake case and bake for 8 - 12 minutes until the cakes are golden brown and spring back to your touch. Allow to cook on a rack. Mix together the icing sugar with a few drop of yellow food colouring and the lemon juice to make a thick icing. Spread over each cake using a knife and top with a sugar flower. Leave the icing to set before serving.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Sometimes it is hard to blog when you are feeling sad and you may have noticed that my posting has been rather remiss over the last week or so. My beloved Grandma passed away the weekend before last and we all miss her very much. I hadn't wanted to write about it for fear of making everyone sad, but, having had time to reflect, I have so much to be grateful to my Grandma for that it feels wrong to not mention her as she was such a big influence on my life.

When I was on Masterchef, my Grandma was sooooo proud and told everyone that she had taught me everything I know. Now although I am not sure that my Mum would agree with this (as she taught me everything I know), I certainly learnt a lot of cooking tips from my Grandma and thought that I would share a few of these with you now:
1. When you have cooked bacon, drain the fat into a tupperware box and store in the fridge. Cook scrambled eggs in a spoonful of this fat for the most delicious eggs ever.
2. Simmer peeled whole onions for 10 minutes and then add to your roasting tin with your roast. After an hour they have a delicious caramel flavour.
3. Grandma's Christmas pudding recipe is the best I know but I am of course biased - the recipe is here on an earlier post. I know that when we stir it and make our wishes this year, we will all be thinking of her
4. Roast halved red plums in the oven for 30 minutes with a few tbsp of water and a drizzle of honey. These are lovely hot with custard or cold with natural yoghurt. A super easy pudding
5. Rose and Violet creams are the food of the Gods - it was my Grandma who introduced me to these and I use rose and violet a lot in my cooking now so this is definitely down to her.
6. Grandma's rock cakes - these were scrumptious and made it into my book. I am so pleased now that the publishers have let me call them Grandma's rock cakes!

Monday, 10 November 2008

Although I am not a huge fan of supermarket cakes, I just had to smile when I saw this cake last week and of course had to buy it. A giant french fancy!!!! Can you imagine anything nicer? Obviously now I have the idea, I will be able to recreate this at home myself but good old Mr Kipling for being so clever! Happy to report that the fondant fancy was yummy!

It has got me wondering what the difference is between a French Fancy and a Fondant Fancy - sadly Wikipedia has no listing for either. I imagine there is no difference but if anyone knows, I would love to hear!

Friday, 7 November 2008